Dealing Miguel Tejada within the division remains a road the Orioles would rather not go down, but the Red Sox, according to a source with direct knowledge of the team's pursuit of the shortstop, have made a ''pretty good offer" that has positioned them as a legitimate contender for the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player.
The Sox, who initially offered Manny Ramírez for Tejada straight up, recently offered Ramírez and righthander Matt Clement, according to the source. However, three stumbling blocks stand between the teams and a deal.
1. Baltimore's ownership and management is largely opposed to dealing Tejada within the AL East; 2. Ramírez and Clement are owed approximately $22 million more in guaranteed money than Tejada. (Ramírez is due $57 million over three seasons, Clement $19.25 million over two seasons, and Tejada $48 million over four seasons plus $6 million owed on a prorated signing bonus); 3. Ramírez, who can veto any deal, would have to approve a move to Baltimore.
Of those issues, the second appears to be the most vexing to the Orioles.
''That's the problem," the source said. ''The money."
Whether Ramírez would accept Baltimore as a landing spot remains unknown. His agent, Greg Genske, did not return a phone call last night. But, one major league general manager said yesterday, ''Baltimore is pretty good, for what Manny wants." That want, presumably, is privacy. Added the GM, ''If he doesn't go there, where will he go?"
That remains a good question. The source with direct knowledge of the discussions between the Sox and Orioles believes the Mets ''still have interest in Manny, but I don't know if there's a direct match."
That could mean that if the Sox and Mets wish to renew discussions over Ramírez, they'd have to involve a third team, presumably Tampa Bay.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press, citing a team source, said the Orioles agreed to a two-year deal for between $10 million and $12 million with 36-year-old Jeromy Burnitz, who would play left field and reduce the team's need for Ramírez. The source said the deal is pending a physical and was not finalized.
The Tejada situation, which has stalled of late, is expected to regain steam in the coming days. The Orioles are expected to spend the rest of the work week contacting teams and asking for best/last offers, with the intention of pulling the trigger on a deal or resolving to hold on to Tejada by sometime next week.
Baltimore and the Cubs were working toward a deal last week but those talks have apparently cooled, as Chicago, at last check, had offered injury-prone pitcher Mark Prior as the key chip in a deal, while the Orioles would prefer rugged righthander Carlos Zambrano. The Cubs, as of last week, had told the Orioles that if they dealt Prior in a multiplayer package to Baltimore they'd want lefthander Erik Bedard to be included along with Tejada.
That's what makes the Sox appealing, on multiple levels. Tejada, by himself, could fetch a perennial MVP candidate in Ramírez as well as Clement, who might enjoy better success outside of Boston and working with new Baltimore pitching coach Leo Mazzone.
Furthermore, if Tejada is moved the Orioles figure to need a marquee presence in the lineup each night to keep fans coming to Camden Yards. The Orioles, who ranked sixth in the majors in average attendance in 2001, have slipped each season since, to 14th last season, and a more precipitous decline could come soon, if Tejada were dealt and the nearby Nationals continue to improve.
Meanwhile, former Marlin Alex González, the top shortstop still on the open market, appears unlikely to sign with any team until Tejada is dealt. If Tejada is moved to the Cubs, the Sox and Orioles would both be in need of a shortstop, enhancing the market for González. The 28-year-old González, who brings a spectacular glove but an average bat (he's a lifetime .245 hitter with a .291 on-base percentage), is believed to be seeking a deal of at least two years for about $5 million per season.
But indications are that the Sox prefer Tampa Bay shortstop Julio Lugo to González. Lugo is a better offensive presence and could bat leadoff (he hit .295 with a .362 on-base percentage and 39 stolen bases last season). Tejada, meanwhile, is just about unparalleled offensively at his position. He led shortstops last season in doubles (50), home runs (26), and RBIs (98), though his production was down. In 2004, he cranked 34 homers and knocked in 150 runs.
The Sox also continue to seek a new home for David Wells, who like Ramírez has asked out of Boston. Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino, while home for Christmas in San Diego, met with Padres GM Kevin Towers. But even after that meeting nothing was imminent between the clubs, as the Sox continue to canvass other options on the West Coast. Los Angeles and San Diego still appear to be the likeliest landing spots, though there were indications the last couple of days that Arizona, having cleared Troy Glaus's contract off the books, might pursue Wells.